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City rebuilding park, volunteers willing to help

LAWTON, Okla._Kids in a Lawton neighborhood have been using a park without a playground for more than two years and one resident says she has had enough.

Vandals hit Clarence E. Soper Park, at Northwest Bell Avenue and Morford Drive in 2013. They put holes in the slide and severely damaged other pieces of equipment. At that time, some smaller portions of the playground were removed because they were too dangerous to play on. About five weeks ago, the poles and the rest of the playground was taken down, but nothing's been put in its place.

When Georgia Tanner, who lives near the park, asked about the city's plans, she was told they had everything they needed to rebuild, except manpower. That's when she went into action recruiting volunteers.

So far, Tanner has 33 names on the list, but is more than willing to get more. As a retired teacher, she knows the importance of kids playing and that she wants those around her to have that ability again.

Clarence E. Soper Park looked like any other playground two years ago with slides and swings before it was vandalized. Now, it's just a big field with three dirt mounds, not exactly the ideal venue for kids to enjoy. Tanner says when the city made progress by removing the equipment and placing the dirt, it got the area excited.

"We all thought, 'oh boy, we're going to get our park back, they're going to come build it back.' But that didn't happen, so I wrote a letter to Mr. Tanner, our councilman," Tanner explained

Dwight Tanner, no relation between the two, told her the equipment was in and the finances were there, but they didn't have enough workers to get it done immediately. So, the problem was presented to Lawton Parks and Recreation Director Jack Hanna. 

He says he understands their frustrations, but that project is one of many his workers are trying to complete.

"It's not done by negligence, especially on my watch, it's just a juggling act. I do feel for the community members in that area and I understand it's been a long, long process, but again it shouldn't have taken that long to put up,” Hanna said.

Hanna says seeing people offer their time as volunteers shows how important this park is, but because of the liability it puts on the city, he's holding off on putting them to work for now.

"It just goes to the point that if you want to help pick up trash or do some painting, that's a little different than constructing a project that has the city's name on it where we are the ones responsible for it," Hanna explained.

For Georgia Tanner, the message is simple.

"Please fix our park. Please put some pride in Lawton and fix the park for the kids,” Tanner said.

It appears this park will be rebuilt very soon. Hanna says the plan is to level the dirt mounds this week. And barring any unexpected setback, the installation process of the new equipment should begin sometime early next week.

Lawton Parks and Recreation has weekly staff meetings on Wednesdays. Hanna says Clarence E. Soper Park is on the "front burners" and that it will definitely be talked about this week.

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